Fire: Yallop stresses fitness during 20-day break from MLS play


Fire: Yallop stresses fitness during 20-day break from MLS play

Two weeks have elapsed since the Chicago Fire's last competitive fixture. A thrilling 3-2 comeback win over Easter weekend against Toronto FC earned the Men in Red their second consecutive victory over an Eastern Conference opponent, leaving them five points adrift of league-leading New York Red Bulls.

Since April 4, Frank Yallop's side has been limited to training sessions and two intrasquad scrimmages after the deferral of the April 15 and April 18 league matches against the New England Revolution and Montreal Impact.

During Monday's weekly media conference call, Yallop revealed his thoughts on the 20-day hiatus, how his team is ramping up fitness levels and more ahead of Friday's encounter with New York City FC at Toyota Park.

Intrasquad Game (April 18)  

Despite tinkering with the notion of scheduling a friendly against an opposing side, the Fire were forced to settle with an intrasquad scrimmage over the weekend, which was closed to the public at the request of Yallop.

"It was 11 on 11," he said. "We did some coaching in the middle of it, stopped it. It's just like a normal training session, I wouldn't call it a proper game.

"We played about 80 minutes. We've worked very hard the last two weeks, so I didn't want to push them too much for a 90-minute game. The guys have really looked sharp, focused and they can't wait to play against a team other than themselves.

"It helps, but it's not the real game."

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Dealing with consecutive bye weeks

Yallop continued to stress the fitness component and preparation prior to the intrasquad game, which was designed to mirror the typical cycle of the team's training regimen before MLS regular season matches.

"The guys are calling it a 'mini preseason,'" Yallop said. "We really pushed the guys fitness-wise.

"A lot of guys missed a lot of preseason: Jeff Larentowicz, [Shaun] Maloney, [David] Accam. You can go on and on. Kennedy [Igboananike] was injured, [Matt] Polster. It was good for us to get our fitness really, really amped up and we did. Just playing together has helped all our guys.

"Shaun's looked really sharp in training, and so has David. They're really coming along and in the end, you're going to see those guys really shine in the games real soon."

Injury updates

Quincy Amarikwa and Michael Stephens, both nurturing ankle injuries, are still recovering from the physical game against Toronto, which saw more than one Fire player emerge with a knock.  

"Both have been working with Adrian Lamb, our fitness coach," Yallop said. "Both did not participate in the scrimmage on Saturday. We expect Quincy to be back in training pretty soon and to be available for Friday, but he's been out 12 days so we'll see how he gets on.

"Mike Stephens is still a little bit tender. I expect him to not be available for the game."

Meanwhile, Razvan Cocis is working his way back into the squad and adds to a long list of midfielders for Yallop to consider for upcoming team selections.

"He's another one that's been out for a long time, but he's looked sharp when he came back. I thought he did well on the weekend in the game we had. He'll be pushing for a spot too.

"It's always good. It's never good for the players, but it's good for a coach to have options and pick the ones that you think are going to get it done in training and games when they get a chance.

"It's a good dilemma to have. Hopefully I'll pick the right guys that are going to get us a win."

[MORE FIRE: Fire swap Alex for Houston Dynamo forward Jason Johnson]

Vying for spots

As noted above, it's been no secret that with this year's offseason acquisitions, the new blood is paving the way for competition for roster places, a missing component in Fire teams of late.

With Jason Johnson's smooth transition bearing fruit and Víctor Perez steadily acclimating to the speed of MLS, the emergence of Yallop's midfield is drawing deserved attention and supplying the second-year head coach with some much-needed optimism.   

The praise is similarly being heaped onto defenders Patrick Doody, on loan to St. Louis, and Eric Gehrig. 

"[Patrick] Doody's done well," Yallop said. "We liked him a lot in preseason. It's great for him to go full-time to St. Louis to get a lot of playing time down there, and he's done well. He's one for the future for us.

"Eric Gehrig's slotted in nicely at right back. I played him a lot at center back in preseason because of the injuries we had.

"We're pretty healthy in those outside areas right now with JJ [Joevin Jones], Greg Cochrane, Doody, Lovel [Palmer] and Eric. It's pretty solid."

[MORE: Fire vs. Impact match moved from April 18 to Sept. 23]

The Men in Red return to action against expansion side New York City FC on Friday at Toyota Park. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason


Bastian Schweinsteiger finally sees the field in Fire preseason

Coach Veljko Paunovic still went with a second-choice lineup to start the Fire's preseason match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Wednesday, but the second half featured the first preseason action for Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger came on for the second half, along with Nemanja Nikolic, Johan Kappelhof and a few other Fire regulars. The German sat out the first four preseason games, but looked sharp in his 45 minutes.

One of the highlights was this smooth move between two defenders:

Schweinsteiger also had an impressive switch pass to set up a shot for second-round pick Diego Campos in the final minutes of the game. Campos drilled the shot on target, but was unable to beat the goalkeeper.

The team did not say Schweinsteiger was injured despite the repeated absences in matches. The Fire have dealt with injuries to Matt Polster, Luis Solignac, Daniel Johnson and rookie Grant Lillard this preseason. None of those four, along with Dax McCarty, played in the 0-0 draw.

The Fire next play Saturday at Orlando in a final match in Florida before returning to Chicago. The Fire also play Tulsa, the team's USL affiliate, at Toyota Park on March 3 before taking on Sporting Kansas City in the season opener on March 10.

Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away


Injuries affecting Fire's preseason with season three weeks away

It may be a good thing that the Fire’s originally scheduled season opener March 3 at Colorado got moved back.

The Fire’s preseason has been riddled with injuries to key players and the extra week may end up being needed to get the team ready for the season. Four players (not counting the already known long-term injuries to Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic) sat out Saturday’s game against Florida Gulf Coast University due to injury: Daniel Johnson (a right ankle injury suffered in a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 8), Grant Lillard (left knee), Matt Polster (left knee) and Luis Solignac (left hip).

Polster’s injury is especially notable because he has had recurring left knee problems since first suffering a sprain in the 2016 season finale at Toronto. Polster missed the first nine games of 2017 due to the injury and missed three more in August due to a related injury.

The 24-year-old, who is now the longest tenured player on the team and the only player remaining from before general manager Nelson Rodriguez’s tenure began at the end of the 2015 season, arrived with the Fire after playing with the U.S. national team in January. He played all 90 minutes on Jan. 28 against Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bastian Schweinsteiger still hasn’t played in the preseason and the team hasn’t listed him as injured.

All the absences, combined with rest for some of the team’s regulars, resulted in a starting lineup against Florida Gulf Coast that featured two players who have appeared in an official match with the Fire. Three trialists and four draft picks started.

Four of the Fire’s seven scheduled preseason matches are in the books. The Fire lost 2-1 to Montreal on Feb. 14. One of the bright spots was a rare set piece goal after the Fire trailed the Impact 2-0. Dax McCarty headed in a free kick from Diego Campos. Campos has been dangerous on set pieces, hitting the post with a free kick and assisting a goal from a corner kick in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast.

Next up is a match against USL expansion team Nashville SC on Feb. 21. Next Saturday the Fire play at Orlando to finish up play in Florida.

The Fire close out the preseason March 3 against the team’s USL affiliate, Tulsa, at Toyota Park before the season opener on March 10.